Tactile sensitivity is an increased sensitivity to touch that makes the sensory experience of touch feel noxious or peculiar. It is sometimes referred to as tactile defensiveness to distinguish between it and normal levels of sensitivity to touch. People can also develop the opposite issue, insensitivity. There are a number of causes for this sensory disorder and it can be addressed in several different ways.
Signs often emerge at a very early age. People with tactile sensitivity may dislike clothing, complaining about the texture and the fastenings. They may shrink away from touch and dislike the texture of objects they physically interact with, ranging from glitter to books. Sensations that other people experience as soft, smooth, or pleasant may be perceived as painful by people who have sensory problems.
This difference in perception is believed to be the result of variations in the way that the brain processes tactile input. In individuals with this type of sensitivity, the brain has difficulty filtering information out and distinguishing between meaningful tactile information and information that is not relevant. As a result, touch floods the brain with information and it can feel overwhelming for the patient. This leads the patient to avoid touch when possible.
People with autism spectrum disorders and other cognitive disabilities often experience varying degrees of tactile sensitivity. This phenomenon can also be observed in some people who have experienced trauma and in people with certain mental illnesses. Medication and neurological disorders can also create unusual responses to touch. Some people have difficulty identifying tactile sensations as the problem, and may develop behavioral problems as they attempt to cope with the noxious sensations.
In very young children, tactile sensitivity can interfere with the development of motor skills and may impede other developmental milestones as well. The sense of touch provides a great deal of information about the world and people who perceive touch as painful and avoid it will have difficulty interacting with their environment. The developing brain may also fail to make some important connections without sensory input to help it understand how to process information. This can lead to learning disabilities and other impairments.
Treatments for tactile sensitivity vary, depending on the root cause. Adjusting medications can help people with sensitivity caused by drugs as well as being beneficial for people with neurological disorders. Psychotherapy may be effective in some patients, with a mental health professional using desensitization techniques to make the patient feel more comfortable. For other people, making some lifestyle adjustments may be necessary.